State Rest Areas May Reopen
The 19 rest areas the state closed this summer still have leaders divided in Richmond.
Now there's new talk about one possible solution to getting those stops open again.
That option is to commercialize the rest areas and let private developers pick up the tab.
Federal law prohibits that right now, but one thing is clear. Governor-elect bob McDonnell says the rest areas will be open one way or another by March.
McDonnell said, "I fully intend to keep the campaign pledge to have it done in 90 days."
The closed signs have been up at rest stops across Virginia since July, a function of a transportation budget that ran $3 billion short.
Thursday, the Commonwealth Transportation Board, which gave the okay on the rest stop closures, heard about one option for re-opening them: commercialization.
The concept would let gas stations and fast food chains operate the stops, but it's an idea that's currently against federal law.
Tony Kane is a highway lobbyist. Kane says, "I've been fighting this for years. It's like Don Quixote and windmills. It's very tough."
Another option is to raise taxes, like the gasoline tax, to pay for the rest stops.
Kane says, "Raising revenue is something I think every state needs to look at very hard."
But lawmakers and voters have consistently rejected that idea. The state transportation secretary says the closures are an unfortunate result of a desperate budget picture.
Secretary of Transportation Pierce Homer says, "In my judgment it's one of the least important issues, and I know not everyone on this body agrees with that."
That is certainly not the way many drivers feel.
Regardless, McDonnell will likely replace pierce homer as transportation secretary, so there will be new leadership in that office.
McDonnell says the rest stops could be open as early as Inauguration Day.